Transformation & Relationships

Head’s up: I don’t always have time to make pictures. I like to do it, and sometimes I find illustrations helpful for my own conceptualization. But writing’s my real thing. Waitressing’s my money thing. Time is limited, and being in nature on sunny days will always win out over drawing weird stuff on my Chromebook. Words only today.

Also, the word “relationship” is too often used in reference to “romantic partnership.” That’s not how I’m using it. Every one of us is in relationship with everything in the universe, whether directly or indirectly, and that’s how it’s meant in this post.

When we fight the evolutionary process, the effect is like damming a powerful river. While this can force a desired result, it creates all kinds of problems in the total system. And now we’re back in metaphorland: By clinging to false identifications and limitations, we put dams in the rivers of our selves. Soon, we end up miserable, stalling joy and feeling totally paralyzed.

Of course this is unconscious: The dams, we think, keep us  safe and “productive.” What might happen if we allowed ourselves to move more freely? Such freedom might not guarantee our (maybe miserable) security. And on a global scale, we resist the emergence of consciousness because it doesn’t always fit into our parameters of what the world “should” be like, what we “should” be like.

If a dam comes down, nature rights itself with no anger. No one can predict exactly what will happen to the river, but we do know that life will be restored where it was once deprived. In time it will take its own shape, effortlessly moving with the rest of the planet. It will be beautiful no matter what.

But alas, we’re not rivers. We have these tricky little minds and egos. We get torn. We want the function of the dam and the complete power of the river: Full consciousness and an ego that keeps us superior to others. We know innately that these two things are at odds, and we know innately that the river is going to win out. This is the kind of pressure that’s building, in individuals (as evidenced by growing rates of illness, mental and otherwise) and collectively (as evidenced by—well, check the news.).

It all feels really scary, and that’s why we need each other.

Since making The Upward Mind public, I’ve connected with people I otherwise wouldn’t have. I find this incredible and life-affirming and all the other good feelings. In a time where socializing is often kept rather surface-level, it can be hard to remember that there are a whole lot of people yearning for human-ness.

Of course we all need deep connection, and of course not all connection needs to be deep.  But there are always those who are grasping for depth more urgently than others: They’ve begun to navigate their own complexity, ready or not. Going inward, facing crises, hitting the “wait, this is my life?” moment—such intensity is only made bearable by seeing that other humans have stood on the precipice and survived. (I promise you, many people have!)

What I am talking about here is a transformational, existential kind of pain. To me, death is the root of all fear: Knowledge of mortality without understanding existence necessarily makes one a little crazy. It’s like having a housefly buzzing around as you’re trying to meditate. Sure, you can do it—or can you?

In blundering ways, I desperately sought people to help me through (not that I mean to imply that I’m, like, “done” or anything). I never fully found what it was I imagined I needed in another person*, but I did find it in books. And I found it in a million Google searches: “Alternative explanations for bipolar disorder,” “Existential crisis how long to resolve,” and my favorite: “What is happening?!”

My hope is that maybe one day, someone who is losing it will come across these words and take a tiny bit of comfort: Everything you are experiencing, from the most crushing despair to the highest of expansive messiah complexes, is simply part of the evolutionary process. I know that’s not immediately relieving, but it is the most valid excuse for madness ever: We were bat-shit crazy, now we’re healing, and healing has good days and bad. It moves in waves.

You may be told there is something wrong with you; there is not. You may be told to get it together; don’t even try. You may want to escape it and numb out with drugs and alcohol and television and food; it won’t work.

Also, perhaps magically, I think that anyone reading this is doing so because they’re meant to. The world is changing. The collective dams are coming down. Some amount of us  have become exhausted with fighting ourselves and the rest of nature; we want to be rivers, even if our power feels overwhelming. Sure, the dam’s generating a whole lot of jobs and electricity, but the cost is our health and happiness (not to mention screwing up the whole “natural system” thing), in which case: What is the point of jobs and electricity?**

All such awareness occurs on the rational level. In the far vaster internal/emotional realm, it feels way heavier.

*Of course I found (and continue to find) solace and healing in others, but my intellectual understanding of this stuff was only made possible by people I will probably never meet in person.

**Jobs and electricity are not necessarily at odds with a beautiful world, contrary to what certain fringe movements may say.

When we bare our truths, we draw people to us who are aligned with (or drawn to) our levels. That’s why I think if you’re reading this, you’re supposed to be. I don’t know what “my” “level” is and I don’t particularly care. I still haven’t figured out a better way to write about this than with the “levels” concept, perhaps because our language is inseparable from its egocentric cultural history. I dislike it because the ego’s competitive nature often just uses the whole “spirituality” thing as another way to elevate itself. How very wily! (On that note: I, too, am already sick of the word “consciousness.”)

In any case, I do know that as we grow, we move towards things and people that facilitate the process. We become literally like water following the path of least resistance to the ocean—except we don’t know yet that we are the ocean. So, we go out looking for conduits to “it:” Is it here? Is it there? Is it in this lover? Is it in that group? Is it in this job? Of course it is never in any of those things. We hit dead ends, over and over and over.

Whether consciously or not, we “use” each other and our circumstances to grow. Every relationship, every work environment, every addiction—it is all for the purpose* of evolution, even if the “how” is not apparent to our logical minds. The universe doesn’t care how we think life “should” go.

We also “hover” around the levels of those who are seeking in the same way we are. If we’re seeking wholeness in drink, our friends are also heavy drinkers. If we’re seeking it in “that one perfect love,” our activities are built around this chase. If we’re seeking it by “solving all of our personal problems,” we’re always in therapy and obsessed with self-improvement.

I constantly feel the need to say that no behavior or substance is, in and of itself, indicative of being “lost.” I have sought myself in all of the above, and you know what? Some of it was super fun at least, and sometimes it was growthful. No one but the individual can determine why they do the things they do. All I know is that many of my old behaviors existed for numbing and ego inflation.  Therefore, I can only imagine this is true with a whole lot of other people.

So our immediate relationships reflect where we’re at on the path. Near the “end,” you may not align with anyone at all. You’re busy in your chrysalis, where no caterpillar or butterfly can help. At best, you may peek out and see that others have made it. Then you take a look at your hideous insides and you cannot fathom how you’ll get where they are. But really, you will— unless of course you choose to stop yourself. You can always try to go back caterpillar life, but it requires focused, concentrated unconsciousness to do this.

If we’re not aware of what’s happening, it can feel very lonely. Even if we are, it may still feel lonely, but at least it’s understood. You can say with confidence: “I’m alone because I’m undergoing radical transformation.” This is much more empowering than believing that you just have no friends and no one likes you and you’re a defective individual.

Being around others during this time can get a little awkward, because it’ll feel like there’s nothing to talk about except how seriously insane you feel: “How are you?” they will say, and you will be thinking “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THAT MEANS HOW ARE YOU.” And since all forms of inauthenticity are going out the window, maybe you’ll say exactly that. Before you know it, you’ve got a reputation for being weird or off-putting or crazy. (To be fair, you could very well be all of those things for a time, and that’s fine.)

At this point, you tend to start staying home. A lot.

*I use the word “purpose” loosely, because evolution defies conventional human notions of good/bad, as well as linear progress.

This notion of “alignment” simplifies why certain people fade in and out of our lives. What you need in in order to grow might be different from what everyone else in your life needs. There is nothing “right” or “wrong” about being unaligned with someone else; it just happens. It only becomes a problem when we remain attached to those we’re no longer aligned with. This occurs because (surprise!) we’re not secure in our own wholeness. This insatiable insecurity is the Great Modern Disease, and I won’t pretend that I’m beyond it.

In this case, we prolong relationships that need to be changed (or let go of), often trying to force the other one to be where we’re at, to “see things our way.” This makes for very unhappy friendships and partnerships. The anxiety we feel over letting go of a “15-year-friendship” or a “30-year-marriage” is nothing but simple attachment to an idea of a person (or a life) rather than sober acceptance of the way it feels in the now. Such stagnation is obvious when you see it, even if it is “the norm.”

Yes, we can continue to love all those we have ever loved, but when actual relationships become forced, it is a disservice to all parties.

Through this blog I’m learning that when we bare ourselves—dark parts and all—there are almost always positive results because we all have our dark parts. Wading through them can be truly horrifying and isolating. But when we come to discover firsthand how similar we are, the common complaint of “struggling to connect” disappears: There have been people waiting for us all along; all we ever had to do was be really real.

I certainly don’t mean to imply this is an easy task.  For most of us, there are about 10,000 demolition days that occur before the authentic human springs forth.

– Lish